The Feast of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth

On March 25th we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of God. Today we celebrate her visit with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; and in a few more weeks we’ll recall John’s birth. Our annual cycle of feasts never gets very far from Christmas.

Some biblical scholars regard this story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as the high point of Saint Luke’s Infancy Narrative, although our tradition stresses the birth of Jesus. There are five stories in the set that make up this narrative, plus two stories about Jesus in the temple. The first two stories describe Gabriel’s announcements to Zechariah and Mary. The fourth and fifth are about the births of John and Jesus. These story lines might be two different histories except for their intersection with Mary’s visit and the aria she sings, the Magnificat. With this literary device Saint Luke accentuates the hidden roles of Mary and Elizabeth. They represent the Old and New Jerusalem, the people of God who have been and will always be attentive and eager to welcome God's intervention in our world. 

An unknown Kentucky poet has written of the Visitation:
Enticed, thy grace to her fecundity
discovered unexpected mother lodes
of courage in this woman-child. With glee
she braved the roads and disapproving scolds,
exploring fearlessly the angel’s bond.
She means to witness in her cousin’s room
the wind-blown benefit so far beyond
ancestral hopes, now seen in barren womb.
As ancient Betty hailed the queen of light
beneath the searching eyes of Roman rod
and Mary sang the failure of the night,
the solstice child saluted solstice God.
No power of earth supposed what these four knew,
the Providence that loves the least is true.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

I once attended a dying man in his hospital room. His family was there with him, keeping the watch. With time on our hands I invited everyone to pray the rosary. Finishing, I gave them my priestly blessing.

The dying man raised his hand for a moment but could not lift his arm, so he pointed at his daughter instead. For a long moment no one could think what he wanted until the women said, “He wants to make the sign of the cross!” She jumped up, took his hand and forearm and helped him sign himself. A few hours later he died.
We begin and end every prayer with the Sign of the Cross. Most of us learned this Sign before we can remember. It is the mark on our foreheads which signals the avenging spirit to Passover us. It allows us entry to Paradise.
The Sign is always accompanied with a word formula: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We are the people who live in the shadow of the Cross in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. It is fitting that the Easter Season should end with this feast.
We use the Trinitarian formula also as our doxology. The Greek word doxa means glory, as in “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The last verse of most hymns is a doxology, using the Trinitarian formula:
All praise and thanks to God the father now be given,
the Son and Spirit Blest who reigns in highest heaven,
Eternal triune God whom earth and heaven adore
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
Often, during the Easter Season we heard people wondering about Jesus, “Where does he come from?” They might and should wonder the same about us, “Where are they coming from?” The Easter Season has reminded us. We come from God, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a very deep mystery, beyond explanation, very real and very beautiful.

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

As Jesus walked in the temple area, his opponents demanded to know by what authority he taught. If I am fainting with thirst and someone gives me cool, clear water should I ask, “By what authority are you doing these things?”

But “politics” is both real and necessary. No one can live alone; we depend on one another for survival and necessarily we must work together. We are tied to one another like the pendants on a mobile. When one person changes, everyone changes; when one person adjusts everyone around him must make adjustments.

When the Son of God appears in our world you’d better expect major adjustments in every department of religion, government, economics, society and private life. Today’s gospel reflects how difficult it is for all of us.

Jesus’ opponents demand an explanation, “By what authority do you do these things?” In yesterday’s gospel we saw him angrily upending tables and releasing animals and causing havoc in the peaceful economy of the temple area. They recognize him as something other than a madman; but they do not know what to make of him. Jesus has acted like a prophet, disturbing the peace of the holy city.

But he will not answer them. He simply demands of them, “By what authority did John baptize?” Constrained by certain political realities, they cannot answer him.
Authority – we might as well admit it -- is not always reasonable, nor does it always have verifiable credentials. It is simply there.
Jesus has arrived at his destination, that is Jerusalem; he will soon be crucified. He forces us as he forced the people of his time – do you believe in me? Every generation until the end of time must make its choice. 

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

“May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”

It sounds like Someone is having a very bad day.

With these two stories of the fig tree and Jesus’ upturning tables in the Temple, Saint Mark uses his familiar “sandwich” formula. He begins a story, inserts another story, and then finishes the first story. We should read these two stories as a single unit because they reflect on one another. Understanding that literary device, Jesus’ curse on the fig tree becomes a parable about the “fruitless” pharisaic religion of his day.

This Pharisaism is endemic to all three religions descended from Abraham and Sarah – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I see it as the attempt to placate God without actually pleasing him. It is shaking hands without looking in the eyes. It is giving a token gift without regard for the person who receives your gift. It going through the motions of covenant; talking the talk without walking the walk. It is barren and inevitably calls down the curse of God upon itself.

It often takes enormous effort on the part of friends, family, counselors, employers and – very likely -- enemies to help me see how pharisaic I have become. It takes enormous courage and persistent practice to set aside those obnoxious habits. And finally, if I do manage to come out of that dreadful place I will recall my behavior and my attitudes and wonder with remorse, “What was I thinking?”

But today I am fascinated by another element of this story – Jesus’ apparent “bad day.” Is it possible that Our Savior can have a bad day? Can he suffer a bad mood? Do we “have to watch our p’s and q’s” on a day like this?

But why shouldn’t this man have a bad day? Is there some law against it? Who made that law? I have bad days; don’t you? Can nothing good come of these days?

It’s easy to judge myself by certain unspecified, irrational standards and suppose, “I am having a bad day; therefore I am a bad person; therefore I should say nothing and do nothing and no one will get hurt. I should only crawl in a hole and disappear until this passes.”

But maybe God uses our moods for his own purposes. There are some things that just won’t get said or done as long as we are in full control of our thoughts, words and deeds. 

Periodically my Dad would have a bad day. On at least one occasion he visited the upstairs where six of his children lived and discovered a massive accumulation of Stuff. There was hardly room for a child to lie down and sleep. Suddenly the window was thrown open and clothes, books, boxes, toys and piles of trash were flung into the yard. He tossed out my brother’s make-shift altar! Alas. It had to be done. The house might have burned to the ground with all that stuff. 

Forty years later, thirty years since he died, we laugh about the incident. Thank God for this wonderful man, his occasional moods and the limits of his patience.

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus once said we should be as innocent as babes and as wise as serpents. This first letter from Saint Peter teaches us how to do that:
Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good.

I confess I resisted that kind of innocence. The entertainment media seem to prefer the “with-it” priest or nun who can “get down” with the kids and talk their language. I often hear from the veterans about this or that priest who was happy to drink a beer with them.
Well fine, but I can’t go that route any more; nor do most of the people I meet in our Church. We can’t tell a Tequila Sunrise from a Miami Vice, nor a reefer from a joint. We are innocent of most kinds of carnal knowledge and show little curiosity about it. The Holy Spirit does not direct our attention much beyond there.

Our smarts concern that which the entertainment media finds bow-ring, just as we find most television worse than boring. Speaking as one Christian, I can read books and memorize poems and have occasionally needle-pointed tapestries but don’t have the patience to watch television. Even breathing is more entertaining than most entertainment. And watching the grass grow in downtown Mount Saint Francis is downright exciting.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Once you were no people
but now you are God’s people;
you had not received mercy
but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners…

As sojourners, we are not called to be very comfortable in this world; but we still should make others feel comfortable with us. Entering our homes, churches, schools and hearts they find refuge from the violence out there. 

Wednesday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Realize that you were ransomed from your futile conduct… with the precious Blood of Christ

Using a computer search of the New Testament, I compared the frequency of the words bread/wheat/break/flesh and wine/drink/vine/blood. Discarding the irrelevant passages I found far more references to drinking the blood of Christ than to eating the body of Christ. The first Christians, it seems were fascinated by the cup of salvation which they shared during the Mass.
Since the Church now invites every practicing Catholic to share the cup today I often wonder why so many don’t.
Some, of course, are alcoholic and dare not risk the chemistry of alcohol in their mouths. Others have a morbid fear of germs and cannot set aside their panic as they approach the altar.
But many simply don’t because they don’t – no particular reason.
And yet Jesus says to us at every Mass:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
Such a direct command should be pretty hard to ignore.
I quit drinking thirty years ago and I have much sympathy for the alcoholic. Certainly he or should approach the altar with great circumspection. As one whose illness is not triggered by the chemistry of alcohol, I believe the content of this cup is the Blood of Christ. Although I always drink from the chalice, I have not had a drop of alcohol in thirty years.

What can it mean to drink the blood of the new and everlasting covenant? It’s fascinating that the first council of Jerusalem, reiterating the command given to Noah, directed gentile Christians to abstain from blood. (Acts of the Apostles 15:20 and Genesis 9:4) Apparently Jews regarded that law pretty seriously. Why would Jesus make such a command despite the ancient taboo?
I suppose it was because his covenant was a radically new departure from the past. It demanded far more of believers than the old covenant.

As we contemplate the blood, we should also remember Moses’ sprinkling the blood of an ox on the altar and on the newly-covenanted people. Because the altar represented God the people were washed and immersed in the living blood of the sacrifice with their God. When we drink the blood of Jesus we are absorbed into the sacrifice of his cross. We cry "Amen" to the gift of his life. "His blood be upon us and upon our children!" 

It is hard to ignore the command of Jesus and equally hard to ignore it’s daring as He commands us to commit a tabooed sacrilege.

We might approach the altar with fear and trembling if we had not been invited to approach it with such confidence:
…since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have "a great priest over the house of God," let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. (Hebrew 10: 19-22)

Tuesday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Gird up the loins of your mind…

Or, in modern parlance and rebelling against teenage fashion: Pull up your britches!
I still chuckle over one friar who commanded us, with more enthusiasm than knowledge, to “Loin your girds!”

In any case no one said it should be easy to follow Jesus Christ, though it’s actually easier and less stressful than following any other way. Pull up your socks and
…live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you….

In my service at the VA hospital I am often confronted by the tragedy of veterans who cannot live soberly. Men and women my own age – and I still feel pretty young at times – have grown suddenly old under the ravages of a very hard life. They have abused alcohol, tobacco and sex; they have scorned the pleasures of committed family life, hard work and religious worship. In the end they have become pathetically dependent upon their so-called “girl friends” – women who surrendered their girlhood a long time ago.
I begin each day in prayer, asking God to help me greet these men and women with God’s own gentleness and kindness. I want to believe they are more to be pitied for the traumas they have suffered than blamed for the traumas they have caused.
Meanwhile, the ministry has its own effect on me. I used to enjoy the occasional pleasures of the pipe; it’s losing its allure. Inevitably I set my hopes completely on the grace to be brought to me at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Be holy because I am holy.
It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. The old model for many Catholics seems to have been, “Stay out of trouble. Keep your head down. Don’t make waves.”
That won’t do anymore. God demands and our world needs more of us. Catholics and Christians must be holy if we are to make any difference at all.

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

As we re-enter the “Ordinary Time” of the liturgical cycle I am reminded of grandmother’s sigh: “It’s wonderful when the grandchildren come; it’s better when they leave.” The Easter season from Ash Wednesday until Pentecost is intense with apocalyptic judgment and eager expectation -- and we have more to go with the Sunday Feasts of the Trinity and Corpus Christi – but perhaps we can now settle a little more deeply into our pews and relax with the weekday readings.

Today’s first reading from the First Letter of Saint Peter is one very long, complex sentence. It challenges lectors who want to read it with meaning and joy. Originally it’s a song which the author may have written; or he might have quoted it freely as he began his letter. I prefer to think of it as a fountain of God’s praises, shooting up in grandeur like cascading water, impossible to follow with the mind’s studied awareness, but beautiful and delightful. It would take a month or more to take it apart and contemplate each word and  phrase. 
I love the opening words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….”
Muslims have a custom, learned perhaps from Saint Peter, to exclaim a praise of God whenever they mention Allah
"He is Allah (God), the Creator, the Originator, the Fashioner, to Him belong the most beautiful names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, do declare His praises and Glory. And He is the Exalted in Might, The Wise. (Quran 59:24)
Saint Francis, who spent time among the Muslims in Egypt, also erupted in God’s praises as he wrote a note to Brother Leo:
You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the Most High.
You are Almighty.
You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth.
You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good.
You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love.
You are wisdom.
You are humility.
You are endurance.
You are rest.
You are peace.
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches, and You suffice for us.
You are beauty.
You are gentleness.
You are our protector.
You are our guardian and defender.
You are our courage.
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Savior.

To all these beautiful words we should answer simply, Amen.

Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost ranks with Christmas and Easter as one of the most important festivals of our church. Because the Second Vatican Council directed its attention primarily to the mystery of the church I look forward to a day when Pentecost will be celebrated with far more pomp and circumstance than it enjoys today. During the first centuries the church “defined” – or at least attempted to put into words – the mysteries of Jesus and God. The second millennium took up the doctrines of the Eucharist and sacraments. So now, with the millennium of the laity upon us, we ponder the mystery of Church.
And we begin this new enterprise when many Christians prefer there be no church at all! They would direct all their attention and devotion to Jesus, without the trappings and bother of “organized religion.”
This impulse to drop out of church and focus exclusively on Jesus – a temptation that has its own ancient history and tradition – is a sign of the great success of the church. It demonstrates how effectively we have practiced the Baptist’s words:
He must increase; I must decrease.
People believe they can meet Jesus directly without the distorting influence of the Church. Many insist they have found the true Jesus despite the omnipresence of the Church. After all these centuries they have met the Lord who was sorely misunderstood by his own immediate disciples but now, at last, is seen clearly twenty centuries later.
Their enthusiasm reminds  me of my mother's remark about my brother-in-law's excitement when my sister had her first baby. She said, “You would think they just invented babies!” These new Christians are so ecstatic about Jesus they fail to notice the Church which has faithfully practiced his mission all these centuries.
But adult Christians must finally take up their own responsibilities to be Church. It was the communities of disciples in ancient cities of the Roman Empire that first commissioned scholars to produce the gospels. They were sufficiently well-organized to sponsor the project, allowing the specialists the leisure to discuss and argue, write, edit and publish what should and should not be transmitted to the ages.
That same church treasured the work of those committees – known today as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and distributed copies throughout the known world by way of the missionaries whom they also sponsored. They placed these gospels within our sacred liturgies; reading, pondering and interpreting them for the Sunday congregations. When the time came the Church reselected those four gospels and dismissed later documents – the so-called Gnostic gospels. 
As the original gospel manuscripts moldered, the Church scrupulously copied them again and again until we have only copies of copies of copies; and yet we’re sure these gospels are faithful renditions of the originals.
This well-organized Church, throughout the centuries, has continued to sponsor scholars who study and translate the scriptures, helping us to announce them to everyone on earth. Saint Luke described this miracle with his story of Jesus’ disciples speaking to Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome….
The idealist supposes that Jesus would and should be known without the Church. Like the game of baseball in the movie, “Field of Dreams” they suppose, “If you build it, they will come.” It will just happen mystically.
But Jesus knew there can be no Gospel without a Church to announce it. This hoary old “institution” has received his presence – spiritual and physical -- from each passing generation and faithfully passed it to the next. The man himself would have been long forgotten – risen or not – without the men and women who loved him enough to tell their loved ones about him.
On the feast of Pentecost we thank God for the privilege of such a beautiful, adult responsibility. 

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts of the Apostles 1: 8

Readers of the Acts of the Apostles, following the story of Saint Paul and his travels, are surprised by the apparently abrupt ending of the book.
He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then what happened? Somehow the modern reader expects to hear of Paul’s glorious martyrdom. And he probably was dead by the time Saint Luke wrote the book. But the legends of Saint Paul suggest he left Rome after this initial visit and went to Spain. So why does it end here?

In fact, Luke has finished his story. In fulfillment of Jesus' command that his disciples should announce the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, Luke has narrated the journey of the gospel from Jerusalem to the political, military, and economic capital of the known world, Rome.

But we must notice how it got there: in chains! The prisoner Paul has arrived, as did Saint Ignatius of Antioch, courtesy of the taxpayers’ dollar. The irony is sublime and altogether fitting. The good news of Jesus Christ, who had died by ignominious crucifixion, could not come to Rome in this world’s trappings of glory. Rather, it should arrive clandestinely through the system of incarceration.

Pentecostals will tell you their movement spread from Azusa Street in Los Angeles throughout the United States by way of the tie rods under boxcars. Alcoholics Anonymous spread throughout the country and the world by word of mouth among hopeful drunks. The Gospel will not be greeted with a fanfare of trumpets; it must come on its own terms in the least likely ways.

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

After Mary, the Immaculate Conception/Virgin Mother/Assumption; after Joseph the husband of Mary, the worker and just man – there is Peter. Before he is spokesman for the apostles and model of the papacy, Peter is the everyman Christian. By no stretch of the imagination is he perfect. But he has that quality which belongs to all of us: he loves the Lord.

Peter enjoyed the historically unique privilege of knowing Jesus as a human being. He is Sam Gamgee to Jesus’ Frodo; heroic in his eager willingness to accompany the hero even when he lacks the moral character to pull it off.

We have to love the man; he is so much like you and me. In this gospel story Jesus tests his faithful Peter: “Do you love me?” Three times he asks the question. We can see Jesus searching Peter’s eyes with his penetrating and very serious gaze. We can see Peter withering before the glancing eye of God. If he has answered the question the first time with his usual cocksure confidence; by the third question he is reduced to tears.

He has remembered what every reader remembers, that he denied any association with Jesus in the High Priest’s courtyard. Three times, by the light of a charcoal fire, he told a servant girl – not a judge or cop or person of any authority – that he had nothing to do with Jesus. Despite his bold proclamation a few hours earlier that he was ready to die with Jesus, a suspicious woman, detecting cowardice, had smoked him out of his well-guarded pretense.

Now the Lord Himself, standing before another charcoal fire, confronts him again: Do you love me? Peter must beg for mercy. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus knows Peter’s cowardice and his infidelity – as he knows yours and mine. And he knows we love him despite it all. We might pretend to be stalwart Christians before our neighbors, friends and enemies. Perhaps we have avoided even the penetrating eyes of our immediate family, but Jesus knows the truth about each of us.

At last, when Peter sees his true self reflected in the brilliant mirror of Jesus’ eyes, he receives his true identity and vocation as chief shepherd of the flock: Feed my sheep.

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Once in a while someone will hand you a photograph and you recognize yourself. But it’s not the image you have of yourself; and in a startled flash you see yourself as others see you.
Perhaps you had that experience as you read this third paragraph from John 17, Jesus’ prayer.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,

You are a gift from God the Father to God the Son. He has accepted this gift for its own worth and because he loves His Father so much. You are a gift Jesus will always treasure and will never lose. He is delighted to receive such a gift; it is worth everything to him.

In this seventeenth chapter we overhear the conversation between Jesus and his Father; we cannot help but be elated to know how intensely they treasure us.  

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Can one read these words without feeling both Jesus’ intense affection for his disciples and his great anxiety as he leaves them? He will be dead by the following evening, yet his concern is for his disciples, not himself. Jesus knows the perfect love of God; he is one with the Father in heart and mind and substance. They’re apartness is only in their “persons,” without which there could be no love to bind them.

In this prayer Jesus prays that each of us will be joined with him and with the Father in that same intense, all-consuming embrace of love. He would share with us the privileges of divinity, especially its joy -- so that they may share my joy completely.

Hearing of this divine joy, I think of the astonishing pictures we have seen from the Hubble Space Telescope. I think of the recent documentary Ocean and its amazing undersea cinematography; and of the delightful movie, now showing, called Babies. You really don’t have to go very far to see God’s pleasure. He looked upon all that he had made and saw that it was very good.

The pleasure we take in God’s beauty binds us to every form of life on earth, and to the earth itself. In fact we share communion with everyone who loves life.

It is impossible that the prayer of Jesus will not be effective. As we experience the privilege and pleasure of being earthlings with Christ, his prayer is satisfied.

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.”

It is a commonplace among Americans of whatever religious persuasion to say, “We all worship the same God. Whether you are Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or Native American animist, we all worship the same good God.” People like to make this creedal statement for the sake of national solidarity. But there is something perverse in me that mutters whenever I hear “We all agree….” If we all agree on anything, I’m sure it’s not true.
As I study the question of God I am more reluctant to say what God is, does or thinks. I prefer to let God remain behind the Cloud of Unknowing, inscrutable and transcendent, as we human beings worship with a multiplicity of rituals. And I am rather certain those who choose not to worship at all have no knowledge of God at all. They are like men who say they are married but have never met their wives. Their philosophical God is no more real than their philosophical ideas.
When I speak with a fellow Catholic in the hospital, one who attends the one Church that spans the earth, I can speak with confidence about that God, who is the Father of Jesus. I am sure this Veteran knows the God of whom I speak; we have worshiped together with Jesus as our Priest, Lamb and Altar of Sacrifice.
To describe my hunch in other words, I believe the rituals we use to worship God profoundly shape our expectations of God and our relationship with God. I cannot speak about the God of Muslims very well for I do not worship with them. I might speak about the God of Jews with a little more confidence because our Catholic faith was born out of the lacerated heart of a Crucified Jew. He studied and meditated upon the very same Hebrew Scriptures that I have heard; indeed, he is the Word made Flesh.
I can pray comfortably with my Protestant colleagues in the Veterans Hospital because we read the same New Testament in our various churches. But I would not rely on the interpretations of one who reads the Bible but never attends Church. The New Testament comes to life in the context of communal worship. It belongs to the community and cannot be appropriated by any one person. I do not know his or her god.

Given my skepticism about popular notions of God, I am all the more eager to hear John 17. In this climactic chapter, we will overhear Jesus speak at length to his Abba-God.
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.”

His prayer will continue through our gospel readings for three days. Jesus speaks first of glory. God’s glory will be revealed perfectly in the most perfectly unexpected way – on the cross. Where human beings see only shame, pain, humiliation, agony and ignominy God shows divine and radiant glory. Indeed it could be seen in no other way!
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

We have caught glimpses of his glory in his birth in poverty, his exile in Egypt, his development in obscurity, and the growing hostility of his enemies. We have followed this mysterious trail – strewn with the bread crumbs of our Eucharist -- from the broad path the world takes. We have felt a growing confidence in God’s serene presence and less at home in this world’s culture of power, violence and death.

As we hear Jesus pray we realize as never before that we cannot turn back. We belong to Jesus; he has received us as a precious gift from his Father.
I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.

We don't know where this Eucharistic path leads. We only know that Jesus has taken each of us by the hand like a big brother in the deep woods. He is walking with us, confident and joyous, into the mystery.  

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.
Saint John has made another reference to the homes in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin, having chastened Nicodemus for his open mindedness, went each to his own house (7:53). They too, were scattered as they abandoned the Lord.
Scattered to their homes, his disciples will reunite not in grief over the death of Jesus. Helpless with fear, not even his burial could bring them together. They are prey to that human instinct which says, “Someone else will take care of it.” The disciples may boast of their courage but cannot actually move.
Finally, the Holy Spirit of Jesus draws them back into fellowship with one another. The same Spirit draws us from our homes today, despite whatever discouragement we face within our hearts, despite whatever contempt we meet from non-believers. There has never been a shortage of critics who accuse us of foolish blind faith, but neither is there a shortage of need among our neighbors, friends and family to hear, see, taste, touch, smell and know the Word of God.

The Feast of Jesus' Ascension

Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.

As Jesus ascended and disappeared into heaven, two angels questioned the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The same angels might ask the same question of Christians today. That millenarian expectation runs deep, especially in American religion. When you’re sitting on top of the world, more powerful than any other nation in history, wealthy, secure, and feeling the heat of envy from several billion people, you might be forgiven for wishing the Divine Referee would suddenly announce, “The game is over and the United States of America won!”

On this Feast of the Ascension, rather than looking to the sky for a deus ex machina solution to all our problems, we should celebrate the victory that Jesus has won and the station he has been given.

The only begotten son of the Virgin Mary, born in poverty, raised in exile, homeless, despised, humiliated, abandoned, executed as a common criminal and buried in a borrowed crypt, has been raised to take his seat at the right hand of God. We honor him as King of kings and Lord of lords.

We honor him also as our priest. He has entered the sanctuary of heaven, the original on which our sanctuaries are modeled, to stand before God and offer himself, the perfect sacrifice. As an ancient author has said, “He is the priest, the lamb and the altar of sacrifice.” God his Father welcomes his sacrifice and accepts it as it is offered, in the name of the whole human race for the purification and fulfillment of all creation.

Finally, on the Ascension, we praise God that Jesus has not forgotten the people who love him. Sometimes when common folk rise to astonishing heights in our world, as politicians, CEO’s, or entertainers, they forget where they came from. They enjoy privileges and pleasures they should not have and cannot share. But Jesus remembers us. He knows each one’s name. He appreciates our sacrifices and our courage and never fails to bless us with his guiding, patient, delightful Holy Spirit. His victory is our victory, his glory shines in us. 

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

He vigorously refuted the Jews in public,
establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.

The conversion of Apollos to the Christian religion must have been a major coup for the early church. He brought not only zeal and preaching ability, but also a deep knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. He must have dazzled Jews and gentiles alike in an age when oratory was the mode of communication.
The Acts of the Apostles chronicles the vitality and depth and power of the Holy Spirit in the first days of the Church. The first disciples of Jesus, by the unanimous testimony of the gospels, were hardly an impressive group. They were eager and willing, convicted and convincing but brought little real learning to the enterprise.
When Father (Saint) Maximillian Kolbe arrived in Nagasaki he spoke not a word of Japanese. He had not even intended, when he set out from Italy, to go to Japan. He was heading for India but somehow landed in Japan. On fire with the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary he managed to print out a page of her praises in execrable Japanese. Then he stood on the corner of busy downtown streets handing out his tracts and talking to anyone who might speak Polish, Latin or Italian.
And his second tract was much better. He had won over some young people by his sheer enthusiasm and conviction. They translated his tracts into polished Japanese, joined his foreign religion as the nation was preparing for war with America and Europe, entered his friary and took vows as Franciscans. (Fortunately, the friary was on the far side of a hill when the city was devastated in 1945.)
This is how the Holy Spirit works. When we think our Church is suffering, disheartened, confused and adrift we should only reread the Acts of the Apostles and remember God Is Still In Charge. 

The Feast of Saint Mathias

If today’s gospel sounds familiar, we heard it last week on Thursday and Friday. It’s good to return to it as we celebrate the feast of Saint Mathias.
We honor Saint Mathias, of course, because Pentecost approaches and he was the man chosen to take the seat Judas Iscariot had vacated.  Beyond that we know little about him.
Scripture scholars, however, love his story because his election adds authenticity to the story of the twelve apostles. When some scholars have wondered about the twelve, and especially why we hear so little of them as the Church took shape, Mathias’ election certifies that there was such a group, that Jesus had chosen them, and that the group made some effort to maintain itself. However after the persecution that followed the killing of Steven and the execution of James the Greater, the group known as The Twelve Apostles disappears from the Bible.
We might expect them to reappear at the meeting in Jerusalem when Peter, James the Lesser and Paul discussed the question of circumcision but they do not. However, the legend of the twelve appears in the Book of Revelation (). The apostolic tradition is the foundation of the Church and we have honored them throughout our history.

And what kind of group are we? If we were a political party we might fight to maintain our unity around certain policies, ideas and doctrines. But the Church is more than a party, and its binding is not a doctrine or ideology. Rather, we live by the command of Jesus to love one another. We are friends.
When someone says, “I don’t believe in organized religion.” I suppose he knows nothing of the church. We have organization but that’s not what holds us together. Even our love for Jesus goes only so far, for we are also friends to one another. I may not know the pope but I know the bishop who was personally appointed by the pope. Periodically he visits with the pope. I am only once removed from the Holy Father and, if you know your pastor or me, you’re only twice removed. That’s not very far from the top, as organizations go. If the pope wanted information about me (God forbid!) he wouldn’t have to go very far down the chain of command.
Obedient to Jesus, we love and revere our authorities – deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals and pope. It is they who keep us together. We pray for them daily, thanking God for the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.

If you follow the news it might seem that life is filled with grief. There are wars and rumors of war, floods, earthquakes, explosions, assassinations, bombings…. The list is endless. They make news and the news industry knows what we want to see. But if you watch enough of that stuff you will be overwhelmed by it all. Add a little family distress to the mix and human life is one catastrophe after another.
The solution is not to despair but to turn off the electronic media, set aside the newspaper, disconnect the telephone and listen to your own heart.  There you will hear the promise of Jesus, “You will grieve but your grief will become joy.”
This takes both courage and patience. Waiting for grief to become joy requires time, sometimes a great deal of time. Joy doesn’t come just because you want it, and probably won’t arrive when you decide “I’ve had it with grief!”
Joy will be born of faith and hope and, like most newborns, in its own time. Joy won’t arrive because the grieving is over. We’re never really finished with our loss. We don’t get over it; we learn to live with it. In the meanwhile your heart has been stretched to receive life in all its manifold beauty and complexity and challenge.
A lot of people won’t go that far. They drop out, taking the side streets of alcoholism, drug addiction, bitterness, resentment, and so forth. They fill the emptiness of grief with stuff until it too overwhelms. We pray for them; we cannot go with them.
Looking on the cross of Jesus we see his arms outstretched to receive everything there is. He is not so much defenseless as hospitable to all experience, both the joyous and the miserable. His wounds are open gates. They invite us to take up residence in his Sacred Heart, to lie down in his sorrow and rise up in his joy.

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

When they heard about resurrection of the dead,
some began to scoff, but others said,
“We should like to hear you on this some other time.”
And so Paul left them.
Arriving in Athens Saint Paul must have felt as if he had come home at last. To this day we think of Athens as the birthplace of civilization. It was the ancient home of philosophy, science and learning.  Rome had the power to rule the world but Athens had the learning. Cultivated Romans not only studied the Greek writers, they spoke the Greek language. Mel Gibson’s recent movie mistakenly portrayed Pontius Pilate speaking Latin; but the lingua franca of the Roman Empire was Greek.  Athenian scholars cultivated old ideas and welcome new ideas; and so Paul, the well-educated former Pharisee, was eager to mount his soap box and announce Jesus Christ in the center of the intellectual world.
He flopped. If they were curious about the excited Jew and his familiar notions about One God, they didn’t want to hear about an executed criminal who had been raised from the dead. You want me to join a religion whose deity has been hanged? You gotta be kidding. 
Fortunately there were a few kindly people in the crowd who took him to their homes and listened more intently; but Saint Paul departed for Corinth a defeated man. He would think long thoughts on the road and had changed his tune considerably by the time he arrived:
When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.  (I Corinthians 2: 1-5)

To this day the Church strives to announce the good news with “spirit and power” and without the worldly wisdom that persuades no one. During the Enlightenment the intellectual world lost all interest in the idea of God. God could not be proved or disproved and God’s presence seemed to make no difference. There's nothing in my automobile manual that says what prayer I have to say to start the engine. If there were I wouldn't buy it. In many ways, it seems, the world gets along quite nicely without a creator, prime mover or first cause. 

Today, in this post-modern age, after hammering each other into nonsense (e.g. atheism and creationism) science and religion are quietly withdrawing to their respective corners to reconsider their separate missions. How might science and religion assist the world in its current crises? And we the Church wonder what “Jesus Christ and him crucified" means to us today.